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Friday, March 31, 2017

Friday Night Soother: some new otters for you!

by digby

A little good news:

On a day of cozy coastal grays — soft cloud cover, a silver foil-wrap sea — a dozen gray fur balls brought visitors the most comfort.

Bobbing 20 feet from a harbor walkway, the sea otters were part of a record number in California. They once were believed to be as extinct as the dodo bird or the Tyrannosaurus rex.

But there they were, a raft of otters drifting by a line of tourists.

Several pups rested their heads on their mothers. The biggest otter cracked a clam on a flat rock balanced on her chest. They lounged belly-up and, with a thump of their paws, rotated like rolling pins.

“I feel so lucky,” said Erica Baumsteiger, a San Francisco pediatric nurse. “Seeing them is serendipity in such a lovely way.”

Martin Beijst, from the Netherlands, broke a stare-off with a bright-eyed pup. “Who is watching who?” he asked his wife, Charlotte, in Dutch.

In May, the annual otter count found more than 3,090 along the California coast. They are the only ones left. If the numbers stay above that threshold set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for three years running, the otters can make it off the endangered species list.

In Morro Bay, their survival is looking hopeful.

For years there have been a handful of otters hanging out here. But now 40 to 60 can be seen on any day, floating around the docks and along the sand strip by the landmark Morro Rock.

A record number of sea otters have flocked to Morro Bay this year. Scientists estimate 30 to 40 adults and up to 20 pups have settled around the embarcadero T-piers this season. (Joe Johnston / San Luis Obispo Tribune) (Joe Johnston / The Tribune San Luis Obispo)

They are a familiar sight to locals in one of California's last working-class beach towns, where Central Valley families go for the weekend and fishermen and restaurant workers live on boats and in trailer parks.

Rory Kremer, a deep-voiced, deadpan fisherman, doesn't sigh like a tourist over the whiskered, furry mammals.

“They’re tough critters. They’re mean. They have retractable claws like cats and a jaw like a dog. A 600-pound sea lion will go around an otter. The Salinan Indians called them the bears of the sea,” he said. “But, yeah, the babies are cute I suppose.”

Southern sea otters — unlike their Alaskan counterparts — don’t eat fish, so Kremer said he has no beef with them.

“The only thing is these do-gooders from L.A. who put their kayaks between the fishing boats and the otters. Now why would you put a kayak in front of a 25-ton boat?

“If I see a baby otter, I'm going to cut the engines. I wouldn't hit an otter. Now, I can’t say say the same thing about those otter ladies.” [lulz --- ed.]

About 2:00 every morning, one particular otter wakes up Thomas “Sarge” Pauley, a retired Army sergeant who gives harbor tours on his Tiki boat, and his girlfriend Jodi Truelson, a former intensive care nurse. The otter likes to open clams by banging them on their houseboat.

“What are you going to do?” Pauley asked with a shrug.

Southern sea otters were hunted to near extinction by the fur trade in the 1700s and 1800s. It was believed that the last colony was slaughtered near Monterey in 1831.

But in 1938, Howard Granville Sharpe, owner of a small ranch near Big Sur, looked out the telescope on his porch and noticed something odd in the kelp beds. There were creatures with fur and webbed feet that looked like land otters he had once seen on a tropical lake in the Philippines.

He reported the discovery to the Hopkins Marine Station, four Fish and Wildlife officials and three newspaper editors. None took him seriously.

Finally, a Capt. Lippincott with Fish and Wildlife and three junior officers came to have a look. Sharpe wrote an account of the scene:

“They peered through the scope, there came an odd silence. One officer wiped the lens, peered again. Lippincott backed away, hand across eyes. Looking at the object glass he adjusted the eyepiece to shorter focus. Gradually his body grew taut; his voice came in a sharp whisper: ‘Sea otters … sea OTTERS!’ ”

It was worldwide news.

Guards were assigned to protect the newfound otters. But poachers took shots, killing at least one otter and sending the others scattering. Sharks attacked.

Ever since, it has been touch-and-go for the species, which first was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1973. The otters are threatened by oil spills, toxins, bacteria and a range limited in part by sharks.

Researchers believe the recent boom may be the result of starfish dying from a mysterious wasting disease, leaving more sea urchins for the otters to eat.

In addition to urchins and clams, the otters feast on crabs — which eat sea slugs, which nibble algae off the leaves of sea grass, keeping it clean and healthy.

Sea grass provides habitat for fish, cleans surrounding water and takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. But these underwater meadows have been dying because of agricultural runoff.

Three years ago, researchers linked the re-population of otters to sea grass returning to Elkhorn Slough on the Central Coast — despite fertilizers flowing in from Salinas-area farms. But the larger environmental connections didn’t seem to be the foremost thing on people’s minds on a recent Morro Bay evening.

As usual, the fishermen dumped fish heads in the water as their workday ended.

“It’s my favorite time of the day,” said Richie Begin, the musical entertainment on the patio at Tognazzini’s Dockside restaurant. Earlier, a giant, bellowing sea lion had interrupted his rendition of “Tiny Bubbles.”

“Right around sunset, here comes the entire ecosystem of Morro Bay,” Begin said, pointing to the water. “The top of the pecking order is my nemesis over there, the sea lion — I call him Ralph in my head. I've seen pelicans dive-bomb him and literally take fish from his mouth. Here come the cormorants and gulls.

“And look! Here’s our nightly cavalcade of otters.”

They stretched out in a line, evenly spaced.

Tourists gawked. Fishermen cleaning off their boats paused to look too.

“They were gone,” Begin said. “You just can’t look at them without being reminded to not take any of it for granted.”

Grab a drink and watch the Morro Bay sea otters cavort for a few minutes. You'll feel better, I promise:


Who's the big winner? Trump's the big winner!

by digby

He may be failing in virtually very way, but there is one way in which he's outstripping all his predecessors:

Trump's blowing up the world order with nothing to replace it but cartoon fantasies

by digby

This New York Times op-ed by Roger Cohen got lost in all the hullabaloo this week but I wanted to make sure people saw it. I don't think the country fully appreciates the ramifications of Trump blowing up the existing world order with nothing but an odd affection for Vladimir Putin to replace it. But that's what he's doing:

When Donald Trump met Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany earlier this month, he put on one of his most truculent and ignorant performances. He wanted money — piles of it — for Germany’s defense, raged about the financial killing China was making from last year’s Paris climate accord and kept “frequently and brutally changing the subject when not interested, which was the case with the European Union.”

This was the summation provided to me by a senior European diplomat briefed on the meeting. Trump’s preparedness was roughly that of a fourth grader. He began the conversation by telling Merkel that Germany owes the United States hundreds of billions of dollars for defending it through NATO, and concluded by saying, “You are terrific” but still owe all that dough. Little else concerned him.

Trump knew nothing of the proposed European-American deal known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, little about Russian aggression in Ukraine or the Minsk agreements, and was so scatterbrained that German officials concluded that the president’s daughter Ivanka, who had no formal reason to be there, was the more prepared and helpful. (Invited by Merkel, Ivanka will attend a summit on women’s empowerment in Berlin next month.)

Merkel is not one to fuss. But Trump’s behavior appalled her entourage and reinforced a conclusion already reached about this presidency in several European capitals: It is possible to do business with Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but these officials are flying blind because above them at the White House rages a whirlwind of incompetence and ignorance.

Trump’s United States of America has become an unserious country, the offender of the free world.

The German debt to the United States is vast since the federal republic was crafted from ruin through enlightened American postwar involvement. Germans never forget this. But that debt is not material, something Trump’s lazy, ahistoric little mind cannot grasp. Germany owes the United States no NATO debt. America is not Europe’s defense contractor, paid to deliver services like, say, the caterers at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

This is not rocket science. As Adam Schiff, a Democratic representative, tweeted about NATO: “Unlike health care, it’s not that complicated.”

NATO is a successful organization dedicated to the collective security of its 28 members, which have pledged to defend each other if attacked and maintain defense budgets to that end. By bringing stability it has contributed enormously to American prosperity. Trump did not discover, as he boasts, that Europeans have been underspending on defense. That has long been an American concern. Germany increased its military spending by 8 percent last year but has not reached the target, set by NATO in 2014, of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. These are pretty elementary facts.

Yet Trump tweeted: “Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with Angela Merkel. Nevertheless Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!” And later, in an interview with Time magazine’s Michael Scherer: “What I said about NATO was true, people aren’t paying their bills. And everyone said it was a horrible thing to say. And then they found out.” Trump added, “I got attacked on NATO and now they are all saying I was right.”

Yes, Mr. President, everyone is saying you are right! And they’re saying, wow, you made a BIG discovery about NATO spending! They are also saying there’s an unidentified lying object in the White House.

Trump, as noted above, showed no interest with Merkel in the European Union. The E.U. just marked its 60th anniversary in Rome with vows of indivisible union and renewal. It did so as Theresa May, the British prime minister, prepares to submit Britain’s formal exit demand this week, and just after the French rightist Marine Le Pen, who may soon lead France, met with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Putin is deploying money and propaganda to back Le Pen and fast-forward E.U. unraveling. Trump, as allergic to multilateralism as he is susceptible to autocracy, has welcomed the unstitching of Europe.

Obviously, Trump is not alone in his desire to end the post-war order. Brexit is an example of the impulse in Europe manifesting itself as well. If we had a sane president he or she would use the prestige of the US to try to bring people together to confront the cause of this obvious discontent and start to figure out how to deal with it constructively. Instead, we've elected an incompetent misfit to lead the world and it's dangerous as hell.

It's undoubtedly necessary to reassess the way we've done things for the past 60 years. But keep in mind that the past 60 years have not featured a world war or nuclear conflagration, the two main reasons for the global security umbrella being created in the first place. Trump is too dumb to know that. He thinks if we hold military parades featuring a lot of fancy hardware "nobody will ever mess with us." Bannon is essentially a nihilist with a phony veneer of nationalism who apparently thinks it's time to cull the herd. They are not serious people to say the least.

It's a nice idea that we should just "withdraw" from all these foreign obligations but we used to understand that foreign problems will find us anyway. One just hopes that the rest of world keeps their heads while the United States goes batshit crazy or we've got bigger problems than we realize.

They just keep persisting

by digby

Over at the America Prospect, Adele Stan recaps the latest in the Russia scandals and observes that the Trump administration seems to have a particular problem dealing with "uppity women" who challenge them. She discusses, Sally Yates, April Ryan and the most uppity of all, Hillary Clinton, who spoke up on behalf of Ryan this week. (I might also mention the several female federal judges who ruled against Trump's original travel ban.) Her conclusion is the quote of the day:
Ultimately, the fate of the republic may depend on the questions and testimony of uppity women. Much will be revealed in the way they are treated by the administration, the media, and the public.

The activism too. This poll of women involved in directaction.org, the group organizing daily calls to congress reveals that women are at the forefront:

Interesting to note what these people are most concerned about in this political moment. I would say they understand the immediate priorities quite well. One hopes their representatives do too.

Along these lines, you might find this discussion between Lena Dunham and fired New York Times editor Jill Abramson about "pushy broads" interesting.

Meanwhile in Bizarroworld

by digby

This is the kind of hard-hitting programming Fox viewers are seeing right now:

It's an alternate universe over there.

What do you mean "we" orange man?

by digby

My Salon column this morning:

So we come to the end of yet another exciting week of foreign intrigue, Twitter tantrums, scary testimony, horrible policy rollouts and GOP catfighting — the new normal.

Thursday’s biggest news was all about the unfolding Russian investigation scandals. First The New York Times reported that two White House officials had leaked the information to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, which he claimed showed Trump transition team figures had been caught in incidental intercepts. The Times identified the two leakers: One of them is a member of the White House counsel’s office and the other is a 30-year-old Michael Flynn protégé and National Security Council member.

That second guy’s name is Ezra Cohen-Watnick and until now he was best known for the fact that H.R. McMaster, Flynn’s successor as national security adviser, wanted to fire him because the CIA had called Cohen-Watnick a threat. McMaster was overruled by President Donald Trump himself. If this whole Nunes song and dance was not part of a cover-up, the White House has gone to great lengths to make it look like one.

Meanwhile, up on Capitol Hill, a former FBI agent and cybersecurity expert by the name of Clint Watts was blowing everyone’s mind with his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, in which he said the Russians meddled in the GOP primary, targeting Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Watts claimed that Trump and various associates helped the effort by parroting Russian propaganda during the campaign.

He uttered a line that may very well end up being remembered the same way that John Dean’s famous phrase about “a cancer on the presidency” is remembered. Watts told the committee to “follow the trail of dead Russians,” referring to the recent spate of prominent Russians who have died under mysterious circumstances, if it wants to find clues about the Russian money-laundering operation that Watts suspects is at the center of all this.

Then at the end of the day, The Wall Street Journal reported that Michael Flynn, the former White House national security adviser, had requested immunity for possible testimony before the intelligence committees in the House and Senate — which neither panel has agreed to provide. There’s a good reason why they wouldn’t. Back when a medal-bedecked Col. Oliver North testified in the Iran-contra scandal, he was granted immunity. He put on quite a performance that let former President Ronald Reagan off the hook, and North’s congressional immunity ended up being the means by which he beat a criminal rap.

Those weren’t the only big Trump stories by any means. He apparently woke up on the wrong side of the bed again and started the day off with this provocative tweet:

To which Republicans replied, “What do you mean ‘we,’ orange man?”

Later on Trump got personal and called out the leadership of the House Freedom Caucus:

A major Tea Party leader, Mark Meckler, had this to say in response, according to The Hill:

The man who promised to “Drain the Swamp” now appears to be the “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” He is now on the side of the swamp monsters.
The head swamp monster would no doubt be House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is loathed by many members of the Republican base, and yet now Donald Trump has inexplicably allied himself to him, for no good reason other than personal pique at the Freedom Caucus. Even some of Trump’s most loyal supporters are starting to get concerned:

On “MTP Daily,” Michael Needham of Heritage Action called the health care bill a disaster, saying, “This is a great opportunity to take a pause and get the policy right and that is what the House Freedom Caucus is doing. Talk about grown-ups, they’re the one who are saying, ‘We want to get the policy right, we’re willing to negotiate,’ and it’s the moderates who say they literally won’t pick up the phone if they call.”

First of all, can we dispense with the idea that any Republican who isn’t a member of the Freedom Caucus is a “moderate”? I’m not sure any House Republicans can be called moderate, but if there are some they represent a very small faction. They’re conservatives. The Freedom Caucus is extremist or, if you want to be polite about it, ultraconservative. The rest are conservatives.

As for these conservatives who refuse to pick up the phone, Needham is right about that. Rep. Chris Collins, a spokesman for the Tuesday Group — a mainstream conservative bloc in the House — told reporters:

We have never negotiated with the Freedom Caucus. There was never a meeting scheduled with the Freedom Caucus. We will never meet with the Freedom Caucus, because it’s not appropriate for a group of ad hoc members.

Members of the Freedom Caucus are far from being “grown-ups,” but they were not the only members of Congress balking at Ryan’s monstrosity of a health care bill. A lot of mainstream conservatives refused to vote for it, too, with the prospects for support worsening as vaunted negotiator Trump stumbled up to the bargaining table and clumsily tried to buy off the Freedom Caucus without realizing he was playing a zero-sum game. (Just ask former House Speaker John Boehner how easy it is.)

It’s pretty clear that Trump learned nothing from his experience last week. He still doesn’t understand the character of the GOP hard-right faction in Congress or the people who support them. He doesn’t realize that with a 35 percent approval rating, his threats, subtle or overt, are ineffective. That’s particularly true when the group he’s threatening is supported by the Koch brothers, two of the 10 richest men in the world. He doesn’t recognize that any major bill that is popular with only 17 percent of the country and will directly affect tens of millions of people is a losing proposition.

In other words, Trump is likely to repeat the same mistakes all over again, starting with tax reform — which many experts predict will be every bit as difficult as the health care measure. But then, Trump has never admitted to making a mistake in his life. He couldn’t change now if he wanted to.

They always tip their hands

by digby

I know it's shameful to do this but I can't help it. In light of the revelations yesterday that the White House was the source of Devin Nunes' "information", I have to republish the opening to my Salon piece from the morning after his bizarre little vaudeville act:

One of the more unusual characteristics of President Donald Trump and his closest associates is the extent to which they seem to have psychic powers. Recall that on Aug. 21 conservative operative and longtime Trump associate Roger Stone tweeted gleefully, “it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel,” referring to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Lo and behold, on Oct. 7 WikiLeaks released its trove of Podesta’s emails.

It wasn’t long after this that Trump’s close ally, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, exhibited a similar eerie prescience. Days before FBI Director James Comey announced that his agency would examine Clinton emails found on a computer used by Anthony Weiner, Giuliani told Fox News Trump has “got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days. . . . I’m talking about some pretty big surprises. . . . . We got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn this around.” Was he ever right.

Then on March 15, in the wake of the president’s manic early-morning tweetstorm accusing former President Barack Obama of arranging for him to be wiretapped, Trump demonstrated his own awe-inspiring clairvoyance. Trump told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that despite all the denials from every institution and person in a position to know, “You’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”

Wouldn’t you know it? On Wednesday House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., was shown some documents by a “source” that had him so up in arms he couldn’t even take the time to alert the other committee members before he ran to the White House to show the president. When asked if he felt vindicated by this alleged bombshell, Trump replied:
I somewhat do. I must tell you I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, I somewhat do.
It’s amazing how Trump and his people are able to see into the future this way, isn’t it?

Of course, Roger Stone is now in the crosshairs of a serious counterintelligence investigation and undoubtedly regrets crowing about what he knew. Giuliani was unceremoniously put out to pasture after it was rumored he helped rogue elements of law enforcement with an anti-Clinton crusade on behalf of Donald Trump. And nobody on the planet really believes that Nunes’ bizarre performance “somewhat” vindicated Trump — or vindicated him at all. Indeed, all Nunes’ stunt did was open the door to a bunch of new questions that Trump may very well regret being asked.

They are so proud of their crude dirty tricks and underhanded manipulations that they have to crow about it publicly before it happens. It really helps to pay attention to what they say. Trump is an epic liar so it's always difficult to sort out his fantasies from reality but this one was easy. We already knew that the White House Counsel had been reported by the New York Times to have been looking for FISA orders. Trump's winking to Tucker Carlson seemed rather obvious to me.


NC: Trading rights for tournaments

by Tom Sullivan

You must be doing something right if everyone is angry at you, the saying goes. NC Gov. Roy Cooper and the state's general assembly will be making that argument in defense of the repeal yesterday of the state's notorious HB2, a.k.a. the "bathroom bill."

It was the best bill he could get Republicans to agree to, Cooper explained, saying, "In a perfect world with a good General Assembly, we would have repealed House Bill 2 fully today and added full state wide protections for LGBT North Carolinians."

The first thing that stands out is that neither caucus held together. Over half the Democrats in the Senate minority voted yes. Thirty percent of Republicans voted no. In the House, one third of Democrats voted no while Republicans split almost evenly.

The bill does not ban transgender persons from using the public facilities matching their gender identities, but does not explicitly permit them to either. This matches most other states, the Raleigh News and Observer reports. But it bans state municipalities from passing or amending public accommodations ordinances (like the one Charlotte passed that sparked this controversy) until after the 2020 governor's race.

The News and Observer continues:

With no state law or local ordinances addressing sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in public accommodations, establishments like hotels and restaurants would still legally be able to discriminate against LGBT people – or any other class of people that state law doesn’t explicitly protect, like veterans.
The repeal bill extends until 2020 the ban on municipal ordinances regarding implementing minimum wage, hours, benefits and leave policies.

Cooper immediately drew heat:
LGBT groups, the NAACP, the ACLU and other progressive groups appealed for a “no” vote on HB142. State NAACP President William Barber called it “anti-worker, anti-access to the courts, and anti-LGBT.”

The deal also places Cooper at odds with Charlotte’s mayor – and fellow Democrat – Jennifer Roberts.

Conservative groups were not happy either. The N.C. Values Coalition and Christian Action League opposed the repeal. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest expressed concern that some Republicans who voted for the bill may face primaries.

In a statement issued Thursday morning, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina condemned any deal that “uses the rights of LGBT people as a bargaining chip.” Because what gets lost in the coverage is the tawdriness of the state's renewed urgency to repeal the offensive HB2 in the face of an NCAA deadline for selecting tournament sites. When dollars and dribbling are on the line in North Carolina, rights and principles are negotiable.

The New York Times Editorial Board writes this morning:

It’s mystifying that Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat whose narrow election in November was seen as something of a referendum on H.B. 2, would regard the amended law as a suitable compromise. The repeal law did away with the birth certificate requirement, which was unenforceable all along because it would have turned law enforcement officials into genital inspectors. But it bars schools and other government entities from adopting policies allowing transgender people to use the restroom of their choice. And it still prohibits anti-discrimination ordinances until 2020.

Mr. Cooper said the compromise with the Republican-controlled legislature was “not perfect,” but he held out hope that the repeal would start to “repair our reputation.” He and other Democrats who supported the compromise said they concluded that a modest step toward undoing the law was the best they could hope for while Republicans have veto-proof majorities in the legislature. That is misguided. The deal was struck days after The Associated Press reported that the backlash against the law would cost North Carolina at least $3.7 billion in business over 12 years.
Cooper's decision is all the more mystifying since the same NCGOP team burned him with the whole world watching on his last try at repeal in December.

Charlotte's mayor Jennifer Roberts called the state's actions yesterday a "false repeal." Echoes of Indiana Jones' quest for the Holy Grail. Time will tell whether those who drank from the cup of compromise chose poorly.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

As California goes ...

by digby

This is a great long-read by Harold Meyerson in the American Prospect about America's biggest state California getting ready to take on the Trump agenda at every turn. And why we might actually be able to do it.
CALIFORNIA IS THE TRUMP administration’s most formidable adversary, not only on matters of immigration, but on damn near everything. No other entity—not the Democratic Party, not the tech industry, surely not the civil liberties lobby—has the will, the resources, and the power California brings to the fight. Others have the will, certainly, but not California’s clout.

There’s no mystery to the clout. California is immense, a state of 40 million, home to an economy that is the world’s sixth-largest. But the will? Has the home state of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan truly become so overwhelmingly progressive?

It clearly has. What was remarkable about California’s performance in last November’s election wasn’t merely that it went for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a margin of four million votes; that’s partly just a testament to the state’s size. What was remarkable was that the share of its voters who cast ballots for Clinton—61.5 percent—was greater than any other state’s.

And this is hardly the only metric that spotlights California as the nation’s most progressive state. California is one of just six states that have a Democratic governor and Democrats in control of both houses of the legislature (California Democrats actually hold two-thirds of the seats in each house). No Republican has been elected to a statewide office (there are ten of them, counting the two U.S. senators) since 2006. In 2012 and again in 2016, state voters have approved ballot measures that made the nation’s most progressive state income tax even more progressive.

Since Jerry Brown became governor in 2011, he and the legislature enacted laws that expanded Medicaid so comprehensively (including a provision that extended it to undocumented minors) that the percentage of uninsured Californians dropped from 19 percent to 7 percent; raised the minimum wage to $15; created the nation’s first automatic retirement plan for workers (who numbered an estimated 6.8 million) whose employers didn’t provide one; registered as a voter every California citizen who showed up to get a driver’s license; set the highest fuel-efficiency standards in the nation; and appropriated $30 million annually for legal assistance for immigrants before Donald Trump was even nominated. Currently before the legislature, with a good chance of enactment, is a bill that would have the state cover all the costs—tuition, room, board, books—incurred by students at the University of California and the California State University system, and another bill, less of a sure thing, that would establish single-payer health care in the state.

The state’s leftward movement continues apace.

The state’s leftward movement continues apace. Hillary Clinton carried 46 of the state’s 53 congressional districts, including seven represented by newly nervous Republicans. She carried Orange County—ancestral home of the Goldwater Revolution—thereby becoming the first Democrat to do so since Franklin Roosevelt in his landslide victory of 1936. All four Republicans with Orange County districts will face strong challenges in 2018.

Californians know the state’s demographics explain a lot of this change, but only a relative few can tell you what the forces were, and are, that translated the rising number of Latinos and Asians into progressive political power. Both California and Texas, for instance, are 39 percent Latino, but in California, the nation’s most strategically savvy labor movement politically socialized and mobilized the Latino community as Tammany once did the Irish, while Texas, all but devoid of a labor movement, has seen no such development. California’s fast-growing Asian communities, which constitute nearly 15 percent of the state’s population, have moved left in recent decades, with more than 70 percent of their vote going to Democrats in recent elections. Add the Latinos and Asians to the state’s African American population and the large number of white liberals in the state’s metropolitan centers, and California’s newfound status as the nation’s leftmost state should come as no mystery. Indeed, among the world’s six largest economies—the United States, China, Germany, Britain, France, and the Golden State—California’s citizenry and elected leaders are clearly the most progressive.

And they have the wherewithal, along with the will, to fight the Trump administration on climate change, social insurance, immigrant rights, and much else...
The conclusion:

Middle-class white liberals, a mobilized Latino community, left-moving Asian Americans, a powerful environmental community, a uniquely vibrant union movement, a tech sector willing to fund at least some anti-Trump campaigns, women coming forth as candidates, properly enraged millennials, and some deft political leaders—these are the pillars of the California resistance. Together, they form Trump’s most potent opponent.

I know Californians aren't Real Americans and all, but there is a boatload full of us. And we're resisting.

Read the whole thing. California is a microcosm of the new America. It even includes a lot of white rural folks and conservative military types who vote Republican. But the majority is this demographic, class and racial mix that will be the future while Trump's throwback politics are the past.
Meanwhile, back in the states

by digby

They never quit: 
Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday signed a law requiring doctors to investigate women seeking abortions before they can actually receive the procedure. The measure purports to block abortions that are based solely on the sex of the fetus, but actually bans women from getting the procedure until their physician has put in an unspecified amount of “time and effort” obtaining her pregnancy-related medical records.

House Bill 1434 — which creates the “Sex Discrimination by Abortion Prohibition Act” — was passed by the Arkansas House of Representatives and Senate this month, and will go into effect in January 2018. It forces doctors to ask a woman if she knows the sex of the fetus and, if she does, they must then gather all medical records pertaining to her “entire pregnancy history.” Under the law, doctors are prohibited from providing a woman with an abortion until they’ve taken a “reasonable” amount of time to get the records — which could potentially result in an indefinite waiting period, the Center for Reproductive Rights noted in a statement.
Of course it will result in an indefinite waiting period. That's the whole point.

But hey, keep telling us feminists that we should STFU about abortion because it's a) icky and b) hurting the cause.  It's all working out so well.

Fixing whatever is wrong with Obamacare isn't that complicated

by digby

This piece by Henry Aaron lays it all out:
Republicans insist that Obamacare is failing. Facts refute the charge. The law set out to expand health insurance coverage, and it has done so — by more than 20 million people. Overall health care spending since enactment of Obamacare has been well below historical trends. Commonly reported measures of health care quality have been improving.

To be sure, the law has its problems. Obamacare leaves some people with burdensome health insurance costs. Too few insurers offer plans in some areas.

The AHCA would have made the first problem worse and done little to solve the second. It would have ended Medicaid for millions of poor people, and raised premiums for individuals and small groups by as much as 20%. It would have slashed help for people in their 50s and 60s.

It would have used the savings from these cuts to finance tax reductions for the well-to-do and to pay for premium subsidies for people with incomes as high as $200,000 a year, most of whom can afford to buy health insurance on their own if they are not covered through work.

The problems of insurers are more complicated. Through inexperience or the desire to attract customers, some insurers initially set premiums so low that they lost money. Unsurprisingly, they then either raised prices or stopped selling in the Obamacare marketplaces.

Those drafting Obamacare foresaw such difficulties and authorized payments to insurers that enrolled sicker-than-average customers. The Republican-controlled Congress reneged on that commitment.

Unwilling to take responsibility for problems they helped create, Republican critics now allege that insurance prices are excessive and that marketplaces are collapsing.

Both charges are false. Premiums are lower, not higher, than projected before Obamacare passed. And independent analysts now agree that after the price adjustments, insurance markets will be stable and that insurers will make money.

Trump and Republicans should devote themselves to correcting acknowledged flaws in Obamacare, not to sabotaging it. Many of these improvements would advance Republican objectives and help politically red states: 
• The Obamacare mandate that large-and medium-sized employers provide insurance to workers applies only to workers employed 30 or more hours a week. Republicans correctly criticized the design of this mandate. It should be improved or repealed. 
• Some Republicans have proposed replacing the 40% excise tax on high-cost health plans, the so-called Cadillac tax, with a requirement that people include the cost of employer-financed health insurance above certain thresholds in their personal taxable income. Democrats should welcome that shift. 
• Nineteen states have been unwilling to extend Medicaid coverage, partly from a fear that the federal government will cut payments and leave states holding the bag. Congress should reassure states on this score. It would help all states, most of which are Republican-controlled. 
• Republicans and some Democrats have decried the provision of Obamacare authorizing the creation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, an unelected group empowered to hold down growth of Medicare spending by proposing cost-reducing changes that would take effect unless both houses of Congress mustered majorities to block them. So, change it.

Should the GOP move ahead on these repairs, Democrats would want something in return. For instance, they would seek to raise, rather than lower, assistance for those who currently face high out-of-pocket medical costs. But that’s the kind of tradeoff Donald Trump, supposed dealmaker, should proudly strike — isn’t it?

There is a deep irony here. Medicaid, which Republicans now seek to roll back, was originally a Republican proposal. The Obamacare marketplaces, the requirement that individuals carry insurance, and subsidies to help them afford it were originally Republican ideas.

Republicans now fail to acknowledge clear-cut evidence that these ideas are working and refuse to consider changes that would make them work even better. So sad.

Aaron thinks that this could be the basis for a compromise with Republicans but I really, really doubt it. If Democrats had a majority in the congress and a Democratic White House they could do this and yet it wouldn't be a slam dunk. And as our politics are currently constructed, they would have to do it all without GOP buy-in and would have to appease red state Democrats who would be facing the Koch brothers and swarms of wingnut activists.

That's the reality. But it's important to put this out there so that people know that whatever problems exist with the ACA, they are fixable. There may be more problems in the future that need to be fixed too. That's how this stuff works. In the old days you could get bipartisan co-operation to fix such problems in existing programs. But those days are gone.

Right now we have a president who has said that he wants the program to blow up so he can blame the Democrats. And frankly, I think the rest of the Republicans probably secretly agree with him.  Their opposition has always simply been a weapon with which to bash Democrats. It's clear by now that they don't have the slightest idea of how to successfully replace it without killing people.

Right now the best hope is that the program toddles along for a couple of years until the Democrats can take back the congress, pass these fixes, let the lunatic in the White House run against them in 2020 and beat him.


QOTD: No shit Sherlock edition

by digby

CNN white house correspondent Sarah Murray:
We know president Trump as a candidate had a very rosy view of Russia and wanted a better relationship with Russia. Now we're being told by administration officials that those hopes are beginning to fade.  They were initially hoping for some kind of a Grand Bargain, something to deal with Ukraine, something to deal with Syria, to deal with combating ISIS. But now the president is sort of feeling a little more glum about the opportunity to do that. It's not necessarily hi view of Vladimir Putin has changed but because he just feels like the climate has not favorable to actually accomplishing a good deal. He feels like there is too much media scrutiny surrounding Russia right now combined with the House probe and the Senate probe, the FBI looking into Russian meddling in the election and also the Trump campaign contacts with suspected Russian officials and says that sort of takes them back to the drawing board.
Ya think??? Lol...

*Keep in mind that the Russian Grand Bargain Trump envisioned was coordinated carpet bombing (and more) of Syria and other ISIS strongholds in exchange for carte blanche incursion into Eastern Europe and a pullback of NATO.

Does that sound like a good deal?


Looking to the sky

by digby

From Reading the Pictures:
Candidate Trump constantly ridiculed the military campaign against ISIS. In reality, a deliberate strategy and a delicately-balanced coalition of players has shown steady progress and impressive results. At the point Trump inherited the situation, these forces had largely reclaimed Anbar Province, the Islamic State reduced to it’s last bastion, the city of Mosul. That’s why the bombing and mass killing of civilians in a U.S. airstrike in Eastern Mosul last week is so alarming, the event described by WAPO as “potentially one of the worst U.S.-led civilian bombings in 25 years.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time, in the course of the post 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that errant U.S. actions led to horrors and political blowback. Still, President Obama worked calmly and persistently over eight years to apply realistic strategy, methodical goals and a range of limits to American firepower. Trump’s bellicosity and thin skin, his knee-jerk ways, his inability to educate himself, his aggressive stance toward friends as well as foes, and his personalizing of everything proves him the anti-Obama. Under seasoned hands, the Trump Pentagon remains to prove itself. Still, the Yemen incursion, and now the atrocity in Mosul has cast the American military and America itself in a new light. Trump — the man who up until recently was still advocating that we seize Iraq’s oil — is turning America into a hair-triggered bully.

Trump inherited a stable government, a growing economy, and a complex set of foreign engagements that hardly made waves at home. After eight years of Obama, we’re now in a hard pivot. It’s difficult to believe, let alone adjust to. And to make matters worse, Trump aims to keep people off-balance, his radical and impulsive actions a political and emotional form of shock-and-awe. Public confusion and disorientation, as well as the elicitation of anger and helplessness is intentional.

So how do we come to terms? This is where questioning and dialogue and imagination is critical, and art has a large role to play. Artist Brandon Tauszik’s GIF, above, was produced last year in Lebanon for The International Committee of the Red Cross. It was published this January with other moving and still images on a project website called “Syria Street.” The project documents the hostility between two Lebanese neighborhoods, one Sunni Muslim, the other Alawite Muslim, aligned as they are with different sides in the Syrian civil war. Ironically, the two sects are separated by a street named after the war torn country only a forty minute drive away.

To be clear, bombers are not threatening this Tripoli suburb. The men in the GIF could simply have noticed a bird. The suggestion of vigilance and the unnerving repetition is metaphorical, and it’s also hauntingly effective. Couched in the safety of slow-motion, the mundanity of sanding a chair and, especially, the repose that comes with having a cigarette is the specter of imminent annihilation in so many Middle and Near Eastern neighborhoods. In the gesture is the anxiety that, in the next instant, your community with be reduced to rubble, and you, your family and all your friends will be incinerated.

Of course it’s difficult for Americans to relate to this, just like it’s difficult to wrap our heads around a suddenly poisonous and reviled United States of America. Perhaps the new reality is easier to apprehend though if you imagine that, from today on, the looping GIF does not just apply to citizens of Syria. It now also applies to Iraqi citizens terrified of it’s own ally — us.

Where Trump is winning

by digby

I felt as if it was important to document some atrocities for Salon today:
With all the hoopla over the current administration’s relationship with Russia and the health care dumpster fire, we haven’t been paying as much attention to the Trump policy that seems to be going great guns: the deportation and detention of foreign nationals by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). For all of President Trump’s failures on other matters, this one is succeeding briskly. That is, if you define success as ICE striking terror into immigrant communities all over the country.

On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally announced that the administration’s plan to use federal funds to crack down on “sanctuary cities” and states that choose not to comply with federal immigration laws was being implemented. The Justice Department believes that local officials should be required to determine the immigration status of anyone they detain (or interact with), and if that person cannot provide proof of citizenship, he or she should be turned over to ICE. The plan calls for the federal government to withhold certain funds from any of the 200 different municipalities that have designated themselves as sanctuary cities.

Trump and Sessions are both hardcore demagogues on the issue of immigration, spreading fear and paranoia that undocumented immigrants are dangerous people who’ve contributed to a crime wave, despite lots of evidence to the contrary. Local officials in most of these cities, including the police, understand that this actually makes their jobs harder and the community less safe, as many people will simply refuse to report crimes or bear witness for fear of being turned over to federal agents. Essentially, the federal government now has policies that threaten to turn America’s cities into the frightening dystopias Trump already says they are. Local people, unsurprisingly, would prefer to have their communities prosperous and safe.

There will be legal challenges from the cities, and the plan to withhold federal funds depends upon a number of factors that may or may not be successfully deployed. But that might not even be the point. Trump and Sessions want to create a climate of suspicion and drive immigrants underground or out of the country. ICE is carrying out with that mission with gusto.

The New York Times reported last month that new orders from the Trump administration have given ICE and the border patrol much more freedom to detain and deport. They apparently felt very restrained by the rules in force during the Obama administration, which required them to focus their attention on undocumented immigrants with a record serious felonies. Today they have the mandate to deport even with minor infractions — as press secretary Sean Spicer put it, agents have been told to “take the shackles off.” A spokesman for the ICE union told the Times that “morale amongst our agents and officers has increased exponentially since the signing of the orders.”

Two officials in Washington said that the shift — and the new enthusiasm that has come with it — seems to have encouraged pro-Trump political comments and banter that struck the officials as brazen or gung-ho, like remarks about their jobs becoming “fun.” Those who take less of a hard line on unauthorized immigrants feel silenced, the officials said.

Part of their “fun” is being able to freely arrest bystanders, even people without criminal records, which they call “collateral” arrests.

Stories abound of people being rousted from their homes, and even shot, by ICE agents. People have committed suicide in detention centers. Kids are watching their parents dragged away in handcuffs, and women are withdrawing domestic abuse complaints for fear of being detained. In Los Angeles, reports of sexual assaults are down 25 percent from last year, which authorities attribute to victims being afraid to come forward. In Atlanta, African immigrants are being rounded up for deportation at much higher rates than in 2016.

Immigrant communities all over the country are already living in terror of federal agents. If Sessions is able to end the practice of sanctuary cities, they’ll be living in fear of local police as well. That’s the point.

That describes the anti-immigration crusade against undocumented workers. But there’s also the crusade against refugees and travelers from certain Muslim countries the Trump administration has deemed a threat. The harassment of those travelers continues even as the ban wends its way through the courts. For instance, there’s this story about an Iranian woman making a family visit to Oregon on an approved visa who was held for hours at the Portland airport before being transferred by Customs and Border Protection agents to a county jail 80 miles away. She was reportedly moved back to Portland 12 hours later and then put on a plane out of the country without explanation. An ACLU lawyer representing the woman’s family told the Guardian he had no knowledge that she had been charged with any crime.

Asylum seekers are also on the list. This report about a 16-year-old blogger from Singapore is instructive. Amos Yee is a kid with a big mouth who ran afoul of Singapore’s anti-free speech laws for his internet rants about religion and politics and was sent to jail twice. This week an immigration judge granted Yee asylum in the U.S. because “his prosecution, detention and general maltreatment at the hands of Singapore authorities constitute persecution on account of Yee’s political opinions.” The Trump administration has vigorously opposed the asylum claim and is likely to appeal the decision. Singapore’s authoritarian society, where business concerns are predominant and dissent is not tolerated in any form, may well be the model Donald Trump aspires to.

In the political big picture, Trump and his administration are in trouble. They are inept, corrupt and mired in a very serious scandal. The president’s approval ratings have already hit historic lows. But the executive branch’s law enforcement agencies are carrying out his immigration agenda as if all of that were taking place in another country. In cities and towns across America, Donald Trump’s promise to “get ’em out and get ’em out quickly” is being kept. It’s important that people don’t fool themselves into believing that Trump is a paper tiger who can’t do any serious harm. He’s already doing it.


Anything that smells like money

by Tom Sullivan

Photo via wrnihealthcareblog.

Matt Taibbi's vampire squid imagery for describing Goldman Sachs may end up on his tombstone. But thrusting into "anything that smells like money" is a an apt description not just for Wall Street but for metastatic capitalism in general.

The anti-inflammatory prescription I picked up Friday cost just $5. But for another recent medication the price difference between either a cream or an ointment was well over $100. David Dayen looked into why that is and published his findings at The American Prospect. A pharmacy owner such as Rob Frankil has no idea how much he'll make selling a prescription until he sells it:
Frankil’s troubles cannot be traced back to insurers or drug companies, the usual suspects that most people deem responsible for raising costs in the health-care system. He blames a collection of powerful corporations known as pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs. If you have drug coverage as part of your health plan, you are likely to carry a card with the name of a PBM on it. These middlemen manage prescription drug benefits for health plans, contracting with drug manufacturers and pharmacies in a multi-sided market. Over the past 30 years, PBMs have evolved from paper-pushers to significant controllers of the drug pricing system, a black box understood by almost no one. Lack of transparency, unjustifiable fees, and massive market consolidations have made PBMs among the most profitable corporations you’ve never heard about.
Originally set up in the 1960s to streamline claims processing, PBMs formed large networks that could negotiate discounts from drug companies and pharmacies, and pass the savings on to you, the familiar pitch goes. That's rarely how it actually works out.
Why haven’t PBMs fulfilled their promise as a cost inhibitor? The biggest reason experts cite is an information advantage in the complex pharmaceutical supply chain. At a hearing last year about the EpiPen, a simple shot to relieve symptoms of food allergies, Heather Bresch, CEO of EpiPen manufacturer Mylan, released a chart claiming that more than half of the list price for the product ($334 out of the $608 for a two-pack) goes to other participants—insurers, wholesalers, retailers, or the PBM. But when asked by Republican Representative Buddy Carter of Georgia, the only pharmacist in Congress, how much the PBM receives, Bresch replied, “I don’t specifically know the breakdown.” Carter nodded his head and said, “Nor do I and I’m the pharmacist. … That’s the problem, nobody knows.”


The PBM industry is rife with conflicts of interest and kickbacks. For example, PBMs secure rebates from drug companies as a condition of putting their products on the formulary, the list of reimbursable drugs for their network. However, they are under no obligation to disclose those rebates to health plans, or pass them along. Sometimes PBMs call them something other than rebates, using semantics to hold onto the cash. Health plans have no way to obtain drug-by-drug cost information to know if they’re getting the full discount.
The higher-priced drugs have more float for offering rebates. So a perverse incentive exists for manufacturers running up prices to allow for rebates the PBMs can collect as a condition for listing the drug.

Naturally, there is a lot more to this in Dayen's report, including PBM involvement in the opioid epidemic.

Middlemen monopolies. Entrepreneurship. The stuff they celebrate in business schools. In the hallway yesterday someone referenced bit of folk wisdom from a colleague: confusion means cash. Those who can generate and/or exploit it profit from it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Havin' a laugh

by digby

Or lordy, I just need a little chuckle once in a while:

Follow da money

by digby

Those of you read this blog regularly know that I have always suspected that the Trump Russia connection has more to do with his nefarious business dealings than with a direct quid pro quo or blackmail. (It may have to do with that too of course.) But Trump's global networks of dirty financial dealings should have disqualified him from office once he refused to disclose the scope of his company's businesses, release his tax returns or divest himself and his family. It's an outrage that this is hanging over the administration's head and the Republicans are covering for him.

Anyway, the investigation is moving in this direction for good reason:

A U.S. Senate investigation into Russia's meddling during the U.S. election should include a thorough review of any financial ties between Russia and President Donald Trump and his associates, Democratic senator Ron Wyden said Wednesday.

In a formal written request made to the leaders of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Wyden said financial relationships between Trump, a real estate developer with properties around the world, and Russia are deserving of scrutiny because of resistance by Trump and some in his orbit have not been forthcoming about their finances.

"Efforts to understand these relationships and to separate fact from speculation have been hampered by the opacity of the finances of President Trump and his associates," Wyden, who also sits on the intelligence panel, wrote to Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Mark Warner.

The letter, though devoid of new details, is the latest piece of evidence suggesting Trump's business dealings are attracting expanded interest from investigators amid a raft of new reports scrutinizing potential financial entanglements between the president and Russia.

Trump has declined to release his tax returns, bucking decades of precedent for presidents and presidential candidates.

The letter followed new disclosures in recent weeks of previously unknown meetings and financial arrangements between Trump's associates and wealthy Russians, and came as Democrats attempt to focus public attention on questions about Trump's connections to Russia.

On Monday, the state development bank Vnesheconombank disclosed that its executives had met Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a top White House adviser, in December. And last week Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, admitted he had done business work for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska...

A Reuters investigation published earlier this month found that dozens of members of the Russian elite have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, according to public documents, interviews and corporate records.
And that's just the beginning. Check out this major USA Today (!) expose about Trump and the Russian mob...

Can you believe we're talking about the fucking president of the United States? Wow ...

First they came for the asylum seekers

by digby

Bill Moyers features a truly chilling story of ICE ignoring the courts to hold an asylum seeker from Singapore. It's just nuts.

This is the press release from his lawyers:

On March 27, 2017, Officers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Chicago Field Office informed Grossman Law, LLC that Amos Yee will remain in detention despite the Honorable Immigration Judge's asylum grant on March 24, 2017. Yee has been detained since December 17, 2016.

When ICE officers first detained Yee, they stated he would be released on parole and that ICE had no interest in keeping Yee detained for the pendency of his proceedings. Then, after release of the new Administration's Executive Orders, ICE informed Grossman Law that they would not release Yee. Subsequently, after Yee's merits hearing, ICE moved him to another detention facility without informing counsel about the transfer. Now, ICE officers are basing the decision to keep Yee detained on a potential, but not yet filed, appeal by the Department of Homeland Security.

Grossman Law has learned from the Assistant Field Office Director for ICE's Chicago Field Office that "...detained aliens who are granted relief remain in custody during the pendency of an ICE appeal, except in extraordinary circumstances." Additionally, Amos Yee informed us via telephone that other individuals he has met at the Dodge County facility, remain in detention despite a grant of asylum. The decision to deny Yee his freedom is not limited just to him, but to many others.

ICE's decision to continue to detain individuals granted asylum, especially when there are no security concerns, brings up serious questions about this country's compliance with basic principles of international law regarding the treatment of asylees. There is no provision under the Immigration and Nationality Act, or under any Presidential Executive Order, that justifies the continued detention of an individual who has been granted asylum and is deemed to be a refugee. The supposed pendency of the Department's appeal is immaterial; Yee should have been released immediately after he was granted asylum.

As the American Immigration Lawyers Association notes:

"America's immigration detention practices undermine the fundamental principles of due process and fairness, and require immediate systemic reform. Annually, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unnecessarily detains more than 400,000 people, including asylum seekers and other extremely vulnerable immigrants. Many detainees are held for prolonged periods despite the fact that they have strong ties to the United States and pose no threat to public safety.

Detention is extremely expensive, costing American taxpayers $2 billion per year. Proven alternatives to detention, by contrast, cost between 17 cents and $17 per day. Detention should be a last resort, used only when other means of supervision are not feasible, and only after a truly individualized assessment of someone's public safety and flight risk."
This is ICE "having fun."

Yesterday in Sacramento there was a Townhall with the head of ICE. And this happened:

"Is that not treason?"

by digby

He's so clevah:
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Tuesday that leakers in the intelligence community are guilty of treason.

"I don't understand why there isn't a great outrage over the leaking of information out of the highest levels of US intelligence," Huckabee, whose daughter is an aide to President Donald Trump, told radio host Laura Ingraham.

Huckabee continued, "This is of grave concern, because if people who are supposed to be guarding our secrets are letting them go -- Laura, I hate to use this word, but I don't know what else to use -- is that not treason? Is that not treason, when you work against your own government?"

Yeah, he thinks he's cute with this silly accusation. They all do. But I'm going to guess that the vast majority of the American people (even if the Republicans among them won't admit it) understand that the leaking about possible collusion between Russia and the president of the United States isn't the real problem here.

QOTD: meritocracy edition

by digby

A new study:
A common criticism against gender quotas is that they are anathema to meritocratic principles. This research on Sweden shows that the opposite can be true: Quotas actually increased the competence of politicians by leading to the displacement of mediocre men whether as candidates or leaders. The results may also be relevant for judging gender quotas in business.
Lol. Mediocre men are displaced. No wonder there's such resistance to them.

Trump's Grand Bargain

by digby

For Salon this morning:

I have written many times that Barack Obama’s most serious misjudgment was when he came into office and declared that he would bring people together and strike a “grand bargain” with all the warring political constituencies. It failed in grand fashion and the fact is that members of both parties were relieved. The idea of trying to do a huge bipartisan agreement in this era of sharp polarization was a major misreading of the political Zeitgeist. So naturally Donald Trump thinks it’s a good idea to try a grand bargain of his own. On Monday Axios reported that the Trump administration plans to negotiate tax reform and infrastructure concurrently.

Obama at least had some reason to believe he had a mandate. He won a majority of the popular vote with unprecedented turnout. The country was in the grip of a major crisis, something that often brings both parties to the table. He thought it might be a transformative political moment and was determined to see if he could take advantage of it. But his grand bargain was a nonstarter from the get-go, even with his own party. It consisted of deficit reduction and “entitlement reform,” which included cuts to Medicare and Social Security, in exchange for as much as $1 trillion in unspecified new revenue (including a carbon tax). And the biggest part of the package: health care reform.

Despite being rebuffed by Republicans over and over again, Obama kept at it all throughout his first term. Even when the GOP leadership signed on, knowing that it was a rare moment when Democrats would offer to take responsibility for cutting the already ragged safety net, Republicans couldn’t get their people in line. The grand bargain plan never went far enough for us to find out whether Obama could have gotten enough Democrats on board, but it’s hard to imagine they would have been any more enthusiastic.

There’s a reason it didn’t work. Asking members of the two main parties to sacrifice their most important priorities in order to get the other side to deal doesn’t really feel like much of a bargain. To Republicans, signing on to a large tax hike is akin to asking them to walk the plank. The GOP has been organized around lowering taxes for decades, and such a deal would have sparked tremendous outcry from the grassroots Tea Party types to Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform — not to mention all of corporate America. As much as Republicans would have loved to make big cuts in Medicare and Social Security, Obamacare was never going to be worth it to them as a fair exchange. On the Democratic side, cutting those safety net programs in order to get health care would have been like asking the party’s true believers to make Sophie’s choice.

These are issues that go to the heart of each party’s philosophy, and as long as they have the power to hold on to them, they will. The hard work that went into the Affordable Care Act showed the only way a party can enact a major policy in these polarized times: sheer partisan will. Bipartisanship just doesn’t exist.

So what are we to make of Donald Trump nattering on about his next big legislative push being a package deal of massive tax cuts and infrastructure projects? Axios reported that Trump is unhappy with the House Freedom Caucus and thinks he can get Democrats to help him pass legislation and seal his legacy. It is true that early on some Democrats and others such as Sen. Bernie Sanders indicated a willingness to work with Trump on infrastructure. But if Trump thinks the plan he’s proposing will fly with them now, he’s got another thing coming. Here’s how Sanders characterized it:
Trump’s plan to repair our infrastructure is a scam that gives massive tax breaks to large companies and billionaires. Trump would allow corporations that have stashed their profits overseas to pay just a fraction of what the companies owe in federal taxes. And then he would allow the companies to “invest” in infrastructure projects in exchange for even more tax breaks.
The New York Times’ Paul Krugman simply called it “a giant ripoff,” which is exactly what we should expect from Donald Trump. That’s his specialty, as thousands of plaintiffs, hedge funds and investment bankers can attest.

We know, moreover, that Republicans are not going to go along with big increases in government spending. Any plan they would even be willing to contemplate would have to be a corporate boondoggle of epic proportions, and Democrats are not going to sign on to that. Indeed, there’s almost no chance they would sign on to any Trump initiative because Democrats learned the lessons of 2009 to 2010 the hard way; they lost their majority. They are now gearing up for a 2018 midterm election that brings out the base of their party in large numbers in the hopes of taking back at least one house of Congress. Making deals with Donald Trump for corporate ripoffs isn’t going to get that done.

Perhaps Trump and his brain trust, who obviously learned nothing from the Obama years, think that they can get the majority of Republicans (if not the Freedom Caucus) to go along with some deficit spending if they promise big tax cuts in return. The problem for Trump on tax cuts is that there will be no Democratic defections for sure and the infighting that’s likely to break out among Republicans on that one will make deliberations on the health care bill look like those for a post-office naming bill by comparison.

This analysis by Shawn Tully at Fortune spelled out all the ways in all the Republican business constituencies will be at one another’s throats. As he said, “For every winner there’s a perceived loser.” There’s a reason the last big tax reform package they passed was under Ronald Reagan in 1986. I’m guessing that before long we’ll be hearing Trump say, “Nobody knew tax reform was so complicated.”

Obama could claim a mandate when he came into office and proposed his grand bargain. Trump, on the other hand, won the election only through a fluke of the Electoral College’s functioning, is mired in a major scandal and is presiding over a congressional majority run by a bumbling leadership that is being held hostage by a gang of fanatics. Trump has already proved that his vaunted negotiating skills are better suited for licensing deals concerning ugly ties and cheap perfume than for running the most powerful nation on Earth. The likelihood that he can enact a grand bargain is roughly the same as the chance he can stop lying. That would be zero.

Setting a national precedent, Maryland passes fracking ban; GOP governor to sign it

by Gaius Publius

(Source; click to enlarge.)

The action moves to the states. The first good news was this — California introduces (again) single-payer health insurance, this time in a climate that increases its chance of passing. Read more about that here.

Now more good news from Maryland — the nation's first state-wide fracking ban in a state with proven reserves has cleared the last hurdle. With support from the GOP governor (you read that right), it will become law.

Fracking will be forbidden anywhere in Maryland, because, well, people don't want it.

Needless to say, like the singe-payer news from California, this has national implications. Here's Mike Tidwell and Denise Robbins of Chesapeake Climate Action Network with the announcement (my emphasis below):

Maryland Fracking Ban To Become Law, With Nationwide Implications

Senate passes bill with GOP governor support, following six years of grassroots resistance across the state of Maryland

ANNAPOLIS – With game-changing support from Republican Governor Larry Hogan, the Maryland state Senate Monday night gave final approval to a bill to forever ban the practice of fracking in Maryland. This move culminates years of protests against fracking for gas from landowners, health leaders, and environmentalists. It also sets a nationally significant precedent as other states grapple with the dangerous drilling method.

Maryland will now become the first state in America with proven gas reserves to ban fracking by legislative action. New York has banned the drilling process via executive order. Vermont has a statutory ban but the state has no frackable gas reserves at present.

The Maryland ban is sending political waves across the East Coast and the nation. From Virginia (where leaders have imposed or proposed local bans at the county and municipal level) to the state of Florida (which is looking to follow Maryland’s statewide ban), the “keep-it-in-the-ground” movement is gaining new bipartisan steam even as President Donald Trump recklessly works to approve disastrous pipelines like Keystone XL.

“Let the news go forth to Congress and the White House: fracking can never been done safely,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “The Republican governor closest to DC – Larry Hogan of Maryland – has joined scientists and health leaders in agreeing that fracking must be banned. This is a win for Marylanders and for citizens nationwide as we move away from violent fossil fuels and toward sustainable wind and solar power.”

With Senate passage late Monday night, the Maryland bill will now be sent to Gov. Hogan’s desk in the next few days for signing.

The push to ban fracking in Maryland began six years ago as gas companies swarmed into western Maryland to tap the Marcellus Shale basin. This is the same pool of gas that has been widely fracked in Pennsylvania and West Virginia with negative consequences. But then-Governor Martin O’Malley (D) imposed a temporary moratorium before any drilling occurred. Over the years, the movement for a permanent ban came to include farmers, doctors, students, faith leaders, environmental groups, and others – constituting the largest statewide grassroots movement ever seen in Maryland on an energy issue. Former member of the House of Delegates Heather Mizeur was a leading figure in sparking the statewide ban effort. With time, multiple counties and cities in the state banned fracking locally and public polling consistently showed growing support for a statewide ban. Finally, earlier this month, with overwhelming support among Democratic lawmakers, even the previously pro-fracking Republican governor saw the wisdom of a ban.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network has been honored to play a leading role in this campaign along with our friends in the Don’t Frack Maryland Coalition, including Food and Water Watch, Citizen Shale, Engage Mountain Maryland, the Sierra Club, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Physicians for Social Responsibility and many others.

The Maryland fracking ban bill also could not have succeeded without the extraordinary leadership of Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery County) and David Fraser-Hildago (D-Montgomery County) in the Maryland House of Delegates. The same must be said of Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) and Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s County) in the Maryland Senate. But Senator Zirkin, more than any other legislator, fought tirelessly for the fracking ban and refused to compromise on the road to this historic victory.

It took six long, hard years to make this happen, but in the end, it succeeded. The fracking ban pushes the right button at the right time. With sufficient effort, states can indeed defy the money that buys all governments and enact what people want.

The states can defy the nation

Now that the national, federal government is seen as the enemy, states can defy the nation without a single guilty backward glance. If single-payer health insurance passes in California, the pressure on other large states — and regions of states — will be immense.

Imagine, for example, a New England single-payer plan that encompasses not just Vermont, which was too small to make single-payer work properly, but Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Imagine a single-payer plan for the Pacific Northwest — Oregon and Washington (and perhaps, since they desperately need it, Idaho). It's easy to imagine regional plans sprouting like flowers from the rich dark dung of the national Trumpcare, Ryancare defeat.

Just as marijuana legalization has now reached critical mass in the states — Beauregard Sessions and Mike Pence will start a new civil war if they go all draconian in opposing it — single-payer will approach critical mass if the California legislature passes it.

So too with fracking. It's undeniably hated by people who have to endure it. Hatred of fracking in New York upstate counties is part of why Zephyr Teachout did so well in her bid for the New York state governorship.

Now hatred of fracking has cleared the last hurdle in Maryland, and the nation's first state-wide ban that bites into industry revenue will become law. A few more victories like this and we may have methane — the falsely sold "bridge fuel"* — in our rear-view mirror as well.



* About "bridge fuel," as I wrote here: "If it's a 'bridge fuel,' will investors be told that the methane facilities they're investing in will be torn down in ten years to make way for the fuel that methane is a bridge fuel to? If so, why not just invest in that? Or is the "bridge fuel" talk just talk?"

Answer: In the pitch to investors, of course it's just talk. Like all infrastructure investors, they're being sold a 30-year amortization and cash flow plan.